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Judith Butler and transgender people

Judith Butler is an American philosopher and one of the foundational thinkers in queer theory.

Butler destabilized the concept of gender with a theory of gender performativity. This theory had a profound effect on third-wave feminism and on communities of sex and gender minorities.

Butler’s notable books include Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990) and Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (1993).


Judith Pamela Butler was born on February 24, 1956, in Cleveland, Ohio. Butler attended Hebrew school and was introduced to ethics.

Butler attended Bennington College before transferring to Yale, earning a bachelor’s degree at in 1978 and a doctorate in 1984. Butler taught at Wesleyan University, George Washington University, and Johns Hopkins University before taking a position at University of California, Berkeley, in 1993.

Academic work

Butler first proposed that gender is performative in 1988, later expanded in the 1990 book Gender Trouble. Butler argues that feminism reinforced the gender binary by defining “woman” as a discrete, ahistorical group with common characteristics. Butler argues that gender is a performance, not an essence.

Butler’s 1990 book Bodies That Matter addresses some criticisms of Gender Trouble. Butler argues that performativity is better understood as repetitive ritualized production.

Butler’s 2oo4 book Undoing Gender collects subsequent writing and ideas, with a section on people with differences of sex development. Butler’s work has also influenced the movement to depathologize sex and gender diversity. Many people influenced by Butler believe it may have been a mistake to consider sex and gender as separate concepts.

Butler has been vocal in opposition to the gender critical and trans-exclusionary factions of the anti-transgender movement.

In 2021, The Guardian removed an interview answer by Butler. Butler began by mentioning the recent Wi Spa incident and violent protests in Los Angeles. A gender-diverse sex offender was later charged with indecent exposure at the sex-segregated spa.

The rest of the censored passage outlined Butler’s views on the relationship between trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) and fascism:

It is very appalling and sometimes quite frightening to see how trans-exclusionary radical feminists have allied with right-wing attacks on gender. The anti-gender ideology movement is not opposing a specific account of gender, but seeking to eradicate ‘gender’ as a concept or discourse, a field of study, an approach to social power. Sometimes they claim that ‘sex’ alone has scientific standing, but other times they appeal to divine mandates for masculine domination and difference. They don’t seem to mind contradicting themselves.

The TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) and the so-called gender critical writers have also rejected the important work of in philosphy of science showing how culture and nature interact (such as Karen Barad, Donna Haraway, EM Hammonds or Anne-Fausto Sterling) in favor of a regressive and spurious form of biological essentialism. So they will not be part of the coalition that seeks to fight the anti-gender movement. The anti-gender ideology is one of the dominant strains of fascism in our times. So the TERFs will not be part of the contemporary struggle against fascism, one that requires a coalition guided by struggles against racism, nationalism, xenophobia and carceral violence, one that is mindful of the high rates of femicide throughout the world, which include high rates of attacks on trans and genderqueer people.

The anti-gender movement circulates a spectre of ‘gender’ as a force of destruction, but they never actually read any works in gender studies. Quick and fearful conclusions take the place of considered judgements. Yes, some work on gender is difficult and not everyone can read it, so we have to do better in reaching a broader public. As important as it is, however, to make complex concepts available to a popular audience, it is equally important to encourage intellectual inquiry as part of public life. Unfortunately, we are living in anti-intellectual times, and neo-fascism is becoming more normalized.

Butler (2021) [deleted – emphasis mine]


Lee, Rosa (2021). Judith Butler’s Scientific Revolution: Foundations for a Transsexual Marxism. In Gleeson, Jules Joanne; O’Rourke, Elle (eds.). Transgender Marxism. Pluto Press, pp. 62–70. ISBN 978-0-7453-4166-8.

Parsons, Vic (October 26, 2021). Judith Butler says the ‘anti-gender ideology movement’ is a dangerous ‘fascist trend’PinkNews

Butler, Judith (October 23, 2021). Why is the idea of ‘gender’ provoking backlash the world over? The Guardian

Ferber, Alona (September 22, 2020). Judith Butler on the culture wars, JK Rowling and living in “anti-intellectual times”New Statesman

Mayhew, Freddy (September 8, 2021). Guardian pulls quotes from interview in which academic compared ‘anti-gender ideology’ to fascismPress Gazette

Maiberg, Emanuel (September 8, 2021). Why The Guardian Censored Judith Butler on TERFsVICE

Gleeson, Jules (September 7, 2021). Judith Butler: ‘We need to rethink the category of woman.’ The Guardian

Butler, Judith (2019). What Threat? The Campaign Against “Gender Ideology” (PDF). Glocalism. 2019 (3). doi:10.12893/gjcpi.2019.3.1.


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